NFL’s most improved teams in 2023? Bears, Jets among 10 rosters on the rise this offseason

As we glide into the summer months, NFL franchises press pause on the most active stages of offseason reconstruction. Free agency’s mostly in the rearview, while the draft’s completely in the books.

So, which rosters improved the most over the past few months? The following stand out:

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The subject of giggles for years on end, Gang Green now rests as a legitimate Super Bowl option after nabbing Aaron Rodgers. 

General manager Joe Douglas never blinked during the club’s elongated pursuit of the four-time MVP. Perhaps it’s a one-year rental, but Rodgers waltzes into a promising situation. I dig the concept of a revenge-fueled Aa-Rod flinging passes to Garrett Wilson with a back-from-injury Breece Hall rumbling out of the backfield. New York sweetened the pot by adding former Rodgers castmates Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb to the mix. 

There’s a fair amount of pressure on new play-caller Nathaniel Hackett to flawlessly man the motherboard. I’m operating under the assumption that his radioactive flameout in Denver had more to do with Russell Wilson and the time-tested Peter principle than a true La Reveal Magnifico. 

A playoff-caliber defense added power to its pass-rushing room with the drafting of first-rounder Will McDonald IV out of Iowa State. It’s easy to trust high-energy coach Robert Saleh to milk another punishing campaign from his defensive charges. 

Lost for eons in a thicket of dark chaos, Jets fans today stare at a ready-to-roll roster. What could go wrong?

The Browns quietly sport one of the league’s more balanced lineups. 

The middle of Cleveland’s defensive line is no longer an open barn door after general manager Andrew Berry inked 325-pound behemoth Dalvin Tomlinson and drafted 358-pound tackle Siaki Ika. Desperately needing edge help across from world-class disruptor Myles Garrett, the Browns pulled off a masterful trade with the Vikings for Za’Darius Smith after signing Ogbo Okoronkwo. Juan Thornhill is a solid addition at safety. Jim Schwartz has taken over a defense whose biggest issue a year ago was coaching. 

On offense, a wanting wideout group was bolstered by trading for Elijah Moore and drafting big-bodied Cedric Tillman out of Tennessee. Could DeAndre Hopkins be next? Little matters if Deshaun Watson can’t play the fiddle, but the Browns are a balanced beast on paper. Anything less than a wild-card berth would double as a disaster for Kevin Stefanski and friends.

Unfortunately for the Browns, each of their division rivals made gains, too.

Long known for their rough-and-tumble defense, this year’s Ravens squad arrives as an amped-up offering on offense thanks to the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers. With his contractual drama in the rearview mirror, Lamar Jackson — armed with a new play-caller in Todd Monken — has plenty of weapons in a post-Greg Roman universe. Throwing for 6,000 yards is lunacy, but there’s no excuse for Lamar not to shine.

I view the Steelers as an under-the-radar heavy in the AFC. They found Kenny Pickett’s new left tackle in first-rounder Broderick Jones out of Georgia — Pittsburgh hadn’t snatched a first-round bookend since Jamain Stephens in 1996. I adore the Steelers grabbing cover man Joey Porter Jr. with their next pick. The son of a franchise fire-starter, Porter belonged in Pittsburgh and pairs nicely with free-agent pickup Patrick Peterson.

The loaded Bengals roll into camp with a flock of familiar faces on offense. They were tasked with fewer to-dos, but pulled off a coup in landing Orlando Brown Jr. to take over as Joe Burrow’s blindside protector. Cincinnati still stares through a Super Bowl window. 

Detroit’s draft was nitpicked out of the gate, but the overall haul brought a bundle of immediate starters. Jahmyr Gibbs looms as a backfield fascination beside free-agent signee David Montgomery. Fellow first-rounder Jack Campbell is a plug-and-play addition at linebacker, while tight end Sam LaPorta out of Iowa is already making waves. He was reportedly the “best player on the field … by a wide margin” at rookie minicamp, lining up all over the place and setting fires after the catch. With second-year wideout Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the season, LaPorta’s in line for meaningful snaps out of the gate. 

Much-needed help at safety was added via second-rounder Brian Branch and ball-hawking free-agent pickup C.J. Gardner-Johnson. With an eye toward tomorrow, the Lions also grabbed quarterback Hendon Hooker out of Tennessee in the third round. He won’t be needed anytime soon if Jared Goff picks up where he left off. The Lions boast one of the conference’s nastier rosters. 

A pair of unwatchable entities a year ago, Houston and Indy will stroll into September as revived operations — if the draft picks pan out. 

C.J. Stroud brings hope under center for the Texans, while first-round edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. gives newly minted head coach DeMeco Ryans a centerpiece to build around for years to come. After back-to-back one-and-done coaching staffs, I sense Houston has something special in Ryans. The club is suspect at wideout, but third-rounder Tank Dell brings speed, while 2022 second-rounder John Metchie III rejoins the mix after missing his rookie campaign while overcoming leukemia. 

Unlike the last guy, new Colts coach Shane Steichen won’t be saddled with an eleventh-hour Matt Ryan under center. Rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson is already splitting first-team snaps with Gardner Minshew at OTAs. I expect the freaky first-rounder to start the opener barring a setback. Third-rounder Josh Downs is a nice fit at wideout. The big question is whether the offensive line — a shattered mess a year ago — bounces back to help the attack sing. Richardson’s arrival, though, marks a new era for a team in search of inspiration ever since Andrew Luck hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on his NFL career.

Pulling D.J. Moore away from the Panthers — the headliner in a massive pre-draft swap — was a masterful lever pull by general manager Ryan Poles. Justin Fields now has his alpha dog to whip passes to atop the sturdy cast of Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet. Fourth-rounder Roschon Johnson is an intriguing addition to a backfield featuring Khalil Herbert and hammer-dropping D’Onta Foreman. 

The draft bought size and might on both sides of the ball. Chicago added a massive human up front in first-round offensive tackle Darnell Wright. Poles then found a pair of front-door-shaped interior D-linemen in Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens. The roster is still dangerously thin at pass rusher. That’s a weird situation two years in when you’re head coach is defensive-minded Matt Eberflus. The rebuilding effort, though, is well underway. 

The Falcons have morphed into a hammer. They emit the vibe of an old-school Belichickian Patriots squad ready to blast through teams like it’s 2001.

A mountain of cap space allowed the club to splurge, but the pieces fit. The front office wisely sealed up their own young talent with new deals for guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary. The Falcons then peered beyond to pad their offense — trading for Arthur Smith’s former pupil Jonnu Smith and signing plucky backup passer Taylor Heinicke — while amping up the defense with deals for Jessie Bates, David Onyemata and Calais Campbell. Atlanta also sent a fifth-rounder to the Lions for a chance on hot-and-cold cover man Jeff Okudah.

The Falcons then added strength on strength in the draft, picking up offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron out of Syracuse after landing electric runner Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick. With Tyler Allgeier already a backfield force, the Falcons are a logical candidate to lead the league in rushing attempts — especially when it’s unclear if Desmond Ridder is the answer.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter.

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